Global stability will be at risk as long as Western powers seek military and economic superiority, argues Sergei Karaganov.
For at least the past decade, the world has been witnessing the endgame of the West’s 500-year hegemony. It started in the sixteenth century, when Europe developed better guns and warships and began its imperial expansion. In the following centuries, Europeans would use their economic, cultural, political, and especially military dominance to siphon off the world’s wealth.
For a few decades in the second half of the twentieth century, the West’s dominant position was challenged by the Soviet Union and China. But after the Soviet Union imploded, the US emerged as the sole hegemon, and the world seemed to return to its historic status quo. Soon enough, however, the US overextended itself by plunging into geopolitical misadventures like the invasion of Iraq. And then came the 2008 financial crisis, which exposed the weaknesses of twenty-first-century capitalism.
Russia, China, and the rest of the world won’t allow a return to US hegemony. Putin recently made this clear by unveiling a number of new, cutting-edge strategic weapons systems. The message was that the US cannot hope to regain absolute military superiority, even if it decides to bleed itself dry in an arms race, as the Soviet Union did.
Russia has no intention of waging another Cold War. Although some degree of confrontation with the US does help President Vladimir Putin unite the public while strengthening patriotism in Russian elites and making them to repatriate their money.
However if the US decides to wage a Cold War, its chances against Russia, China, and other emerging powers would not be very good. The balance of military, political, economic, and moral power has simply shifted too far away from the West to be reversed.
In order to de-escalate tensions, major powers should reopen channels of communications between militaries and also consider establishing more diplomatic, legislative, academic, and educational exchanges. If we are wise, we can build a more balanced international system, one in which the major powers will deter one another while cooperating to solve global problems.
Sergei Karaganov is Dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and Honorary Chairman of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy